Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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June 22, 2013

BRMC staff members prepare to treat snakebite victims

BLUEFIELD — Several medical staff members and other employees of Bluefield Regional Medical Center demonstrated that the Boy Scouts of America aren’t the only ones who are working to “be prepared” for the upcoming National Boy Scouts Jamboree in mid-July. A representative from BTG as well as an interpreter from the USDA Forest Service’s “Snakes of West Virginia Program” conducted an informative two-part program on venomous-snake bites and the care of patients who have been bit by snakes.

“Dr. (Randy) Lester requested that I do a presentation about caring for patients with snakebites,” Deb Simon, RN, an operating room nurse at BRMC said. “His thinking was that with the Boy Scouts coming to the Jamboree July 17-24, and we will have more people in the area.

“I have a passion for the wilderness,” Simon said. “I have worked with Roy Moose in the past,” she said of Moose, the interpreter/snake handler at the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center. Moose works for the USDA Forest Service. Simon said she could make a presentation to the medical professionals on health care procedures for dealing with snakebites “just in case they have one,” but she said Moose and Todd J. Mueller, acute care specialist with BTG East Region could also provide an informative program.

Mueller gave a 30-minute lecture on the medical response to treating venomous snakebites as well as information on CroFab, an antivenom. He explained that BTG harvests the snake venom by milking poisonous snakes once each month at the company warehouse in Utah. From there, the venom is taken to Wales for initial processing before heading to Australia. After the antivenom is refined in Australia, it is returned to Wales then returns to the United States.

After Mueller made his presentation, Moose conducted a demonstration on the lawn outside the hospital with live snakes including two venomous snakes — a timber rattler and a copperhead — as well as non-venomous snakes including a water snake, black rat snake and garter snake.

“You could see all these people get excited and step back when he first brought out the snakes, but after he had them out and talked about them, they came up close and watched what he was doing,” Dr. William Blaskis, a resident at BRMC said. “This was a very good introduction to snakes for people who have never been around them.”

Blaskis is an avid hiker who is originally from South Carolina, but came to Lewisburg to attend the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. “I’m always looking for snakes when I’m hiking,” he said. He added that during Moose’s presentation, he could tell that people were anxious at first, but began to be drawn into the presentation as Moose explained the nature of snakes.

“I like to hike too,” Dr. Rachel Saul, also a BRMC resident said. “I liked the whole presentation — especially when we got to see the snakes.” Saul is a native of Colorado who studied medicine at the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, Mo. “I may have picked up snakes when I was young, but I had no idea of how to tell the difference between snakes.”

Moose explained that the two poisonous snakes in West Virginia — timber rattler and copperhead — are intimidated by people and that they only strike if they’re cornered. He said that alcohol is often involved in snakebites, “and it’s not the snake that’s drinking the alcohol.”

As he talked about snakes, the timber rattler that he had on a stick crawled up near his hand and continued its trip up Moose’s arm. Moose said that the snake just sensed his arm as being part of the stick. “A lot of people sit down on snakes,” he said jokingly. “Suction works, but if someone sits on a snake just say: ‘You sir,” are on your own. Moose had examples of plastic devices used to extract venom from snake bites, and said that it can numb a person’s mouth.

Moose let both the timber rattler and the copperhead slither around on the ground near the medical professionals. He said that snakes only travel about 5 miles per hour, and people can easily get away from them.

Moose said he has been bit by both a copperhead and a rattlesnake. He said that the antivenom can cost $70,000-$100,000. Moose was able to explain from experience, the stages he went through after being bitten and after receiving the antivenom.

– Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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